Sunday, June 23, 2019

Tough truth telling

Tressie McMillan Cottom's Thick And Other Essays is a treat -- intellectual and moral candy -- funny, biting, persuasive, and relentless all at once. Cottam is a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her more academically conventional (and credentialing) work is Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy which documents how poor people, often of color, have their futures chained to bottomless debt by a system that merely ratifies their unequal chances in life. (Hey -- if Elizabeth Warren wins the big job, maybe she should make Cottam her Secretary of Education.)

This book is something else. Thick consists of eight short essays -- "takes" really -- in which Cottam applies the professional discipline of sociological investigation to her experience of being a southern black girl and woman working her way through our hostile country. She relates the terrible tale of losing her premature infant after three days of unrecognized labor within a medical system designed not to hear a black woman's description of her pain. She skewers the bigotry of academia (and beyond) which would be so much more comfortable with her if she could just be exotic: "Didn't I have any African in my family?" She explores the truth that for black girls, "home is both a refuge and where your most intimate betrayals happen."

More lightly, arguing both seriously and satirically that white "mainstream" media needs black women writing about life's "mundane machinations," she explains about her difficulties in acquiring a larger garbage can:

A few months ago I could not get the City of Richmond to give me a trash can. They call them "supercans," which sounds like it has a lot of cool powers but just means it can hold three Amazon Prime boxes. That is good because I am really working on being a socialist black feminist. It would help if my comrades did not see my Amazon Prime boxes in my trash can. ... I wonder if the county that surrounds my city has the same problem getting supercans. The county is white-ish. The city is black-ish. Something tells me that the level of municipal efficiency I am getting in the city versus the county has something to do with that demographic reality ...

There's more in a pseudo-David Brooks style, but you will have guessed she knew how to work the white people's system, so she got her can. And she nailed both her city and opinion columnizing.

Cottam writes with a consciousness of a calling:

I do what I do because it is what I was put here to do. ... I am living in the most opportune time in black history in the United States and that means, still, that I will die younger, live poorer, risk more exposure to police violence, and be punished by social policy for being a black woman in ways that aren't true for almost any other group in this nation. That is the best it has ever been to be black in America and it is still that statistically bad at the macro level. ... But I have never wanted only to tell powerfully evocative stories. I have wanted to tell evocative stories that become a problem for power. For that, I draw upon data and research.

I enjoyed Thick immensely.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

She's the best in the world

Tara Geraghty-Moats is the number one Women's Nordic Combined athlete in the world. Last year she entered ten international races -- and won all of them.

To get there, she's worked her way through ski-jumping, cross country skiing, and biathlon before turning to Nordic combined; through injury, frustration, and coaches who found her versatility threatening; and through the difficulties that go with devotion to sports in which athletes have to find much of their own funding.

The interviewer is not a winter sports specialist, so he leads her through clear descriptions of what each of these sports consists of. He shows he respects that he's talking with a mature pro -- who is "fun" and "sweet" too.

Posting this interview is pure self-indulgence. If you've got the time, I think you'll enjoy meeting my courtesy niece Tara.

In case the embedded podcast doesn't work for some reason, here's a link.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Constraining lawless power: ideas matter

Perhaps dogged, seemingly naive, efforts emanating from the relatively weak can help bend that arc of history which we're enjoined to hope bends toward justice. A couple of years ago, I wrote about The Internationalists, a lucid argument which seeks to rehabilitate the Kellog-Briand Pact of 1928 in which 63 nations declared they had outlawed war -- just a decade before World War II engulfed nearly all of them. And I found it did convince me. I came away believing that movements of citizens and battalions of lawyers could, slowly, step by halting step, build frameworks of rule of law and practice that reduced immediate physical violence in international relations. And further, I became convinced that, as Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro argue, in the tortuous process of a global society struggling to be born, "ideas matter and people with ideas matter."

Last week a couple of significant, if not immediately fruitful, developments in the arena of international rule of law floated by in the news firehose:
  • A Dutch team of prosecutors charged four men, three Russians and a separatist Ukrainian, with having fired the Russian missile which shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 enroute from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in 2014.

    "These suspects are seen to have played an important role in the death of 298 innocent civilians", said Dutch chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke.

    "Although they did not push the button themselves, we suspect them of close co-operation to get the [missile launcher] where it was, with the aim to shoot down an aeroplane."

    Investigators, he added, had "evidence showing that Russia provided the missile launcher".

    BBC News

    Though there is little reason to expect Russia to hand over the accused men, a trial will start in November 2020 whether or not the defendants are in custody.
  • Meanwhile, a United Nations human rights investigation has provided what the Washington Post calls "the clearest picture yet" of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi's kidnapping and dismemberment by Saudi agents inside the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

    The months-long investigation by Agnes Callamard, a human rights expert at the United Nations, faulted the United States and other countries as not exerting enough pressure on Saudi Arabia despite “credible evidence” of the likelihood that [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammed [bin Salman] was involved in Khashoggi’s killing.

    She called for sanctioning and freezing the prince’s assets until he is either cleared or definitively implicated.

    With access to audio recordings provided by Turkish intelligence, Callamard laid out in graphic detail how Saudi government agents prepared to kill and dismember Khashoggi.

    The U. N. has no police force, but it can hope to bring to bear continued international blaming and shaming. That may not seem like much, but in a moment when the Saudi kingdom's oil is becoming less essential to many states and its war in Yemen seems more barbarous than ever, such conclusions can hurt a surprising amount.
Step by step ...

Friday cat blogging

Boris lives on a farm in Maine and is a soulful fellow. No, I haven't been visiting him, but his admirers pass along his image.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

World Refugee Day: we've been here before, to our shame

The United Nations proclaims this day as an occasion to

educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity.

Meanwhile, U.S. Leading Decline in Global Support for Refugees Under Trump Administration.

So far, eight months into fiscal year 2019, which began at the start of October, just 18,051 refugees have been welcomed into the U.S. at a rate of around 2,250 a month.

Those numbers stand in stark contrast to the country's historic average of welcoming more than 6,500 refugees per month since 1980, with an average ceiling of 95,000 per year.

In FY 2019, the admissions ceiling has been placed at a historic low, with the cap set at just 30,000 refugees, representing less than a third of the country's historic average commitment.

The low ceiling has also been coupled with what the IRC has branded an "artificially" reduced processing capacity, with U.S. admissions slowing at times to a virtual standstill.

It's not broad public opinion driving the regime's cruel policies.

...public opinion polls have suggested that levels of support for welcoming refugees and immigrants into the country are among the highest they have ever been.

A January poll from the Pew Research Center found that more than 60 percent of people in the U.S. believed that immigrants strengthen the country. Meanwhile, another poll that month from Quinnipiac University saw more than 75 percent of people in the country say they believe immigration is "good" for the U.S.

Human decency demands that we change who is in charge.

Strong prospects for 2020

Democrats sure are surfacing some interesting candidates for 2020. I have little idea whether either of these gentleman can win; they are running in tough venues. But they both came on the scene with interesting and novel videos, worth a few minutes of your time.
Jaime Harrison wants to take on Republican Trump suck-up, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. This video exposes Graham and introduces Harrison imaginatively. He encountered his early values in comic books where "real heroes help people and value honesty and loyalty ..."

Eric Mansfield -- a doctor, a pastor, and a veteran -- says he got a "second chance at life" after a heart attack while driving.

... if your hope has been pushed down, get back up ...

He is running for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina against GOP incumbent Thom Tillis. In order to get there, he has to win a Democratic primary in which the field has not yet solidified.

The Senate is where much of the action will be at in 2020. If one of the Democratic presidential hopefuls conquers the primary and wins the general election without also winning in the Senate, it will be next to impossible to turn Democratic plans into governance. These men are looking at tough races but it is a sign of Democratic strength that such articulate and smart candidates are willing to jump into the fray.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Reading Mueller: two elements make the crime


I think we have confirmation that President Trump hasn't read the Mueller report -- or perhaps that he is functionally illiterate as the many gaps in his general knowledge suggest.

As you've certainly heard, the Orange Tweeto recently gave a long interview to ABC News.

Asked by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in the Oval Office on Wednesday whether his campaign would accept ... information from foreigners -- such as China or Russia -- or hand it over the FBI, Trump said, "I think maybe you do both."

"I think you might want to listen, there isn't anything wrong with listening," Trump continued. "If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent' -- oh, I think I'd want to hear it."

Mueller has carefully explained just why Trump's willingness to accept foreign offers of "opposition research" could be a crime; the President would do well to attempt some reading.

In the section of the Mueller Report titled "Prosecution and Declination Decisions," the Special Counsel carefully lays out why he did not bring any charges against Don Jr. or Jared Kushner in relation to the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting at which these campaign leaders met Russians offering "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. Mueller interpreted the law against foreign contributions to require that what foreigners offered be "a thing of value" -- in this case likely, but not something ever settled by a court. He's completely clear on what is wrong with foreign intervention in a presidential election.

... candidate-related opposition research given to a campaign for the purpose of influencing an election could constitute a contribution to which the foreign-source ban could apply. A campaign can be assisted not only by the provision of funds, but also by the provision of derogatory information about an opponent. Political campaigns frequently conduct and pay for opposition research. A foreign entity that engaged in such research and provided resulting information to a campaign could exert a greater effect on an election, and a greater tendency to ingratiate the donor to the candidate, than a gift of money or tangible things of value. At the same time, no judicial decision has treated the voluntary provision of uncompensated opposition research or similar information as a thing of value that could amount to a contribution under campaign-finance law. ... It is uncertain how courts would resolve those issues.

In addition, for what occurred at the meeting to constitute an indictable offense, the people involved had to know receiving Russian help to the campaign was against the law.

Most significantly, the government has not obtained admissible evidence that is likely to establish the scienter [knowledge] requirement beyond a reasonable doubt. To prove that a defendant acted “knowingly and willfully,” the government would have to show that the defendant had general knowledge that his conduct was unlawful.

Mueller couldn't prove the Trumpkins knew what they were doing.

That cannot be said of the President. He's just announced he'll commit the same putative crime if he gets the chance. There's no defense of ignorance here.

I'm slowly reading the Mueller Report out of respect for all the lawyers who have been struggling to maintain the rule of law in a lawless season. They are heroes of a sort, even the ones I disagree with politically. Previous installments:
Reading Mueller: of social media and hacking
Reading Mueller: Russians, Russians, and more Russians

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Californians still conflicted about the death penalty


According to an L.A. Times poll, we still like the death penalty. But a majority also supports Governor Newsom's decision to grant a blanket reprieve to all 737 convicted inmates sitting on death row, apparently interminably.

I look at the split consciousness in this poll and I see Californians absorbing what anti-death penalty campaigners have been trying to explain for a decade: death sentences have become a cruel hoax. Who is charged and tried under a possibility of execution is a question of which county the crime took place in. Most prosecutors have decided that death cases are too expensive and too hard to win, so they opt for charges that will send the bad guy away for the rest of his life. Which charges prosecutors bring are often discretionary; communities of color that have learned that they can't trust the authorities. These communities assume actual or structural bias in charging decisions (they believe the DA comes down on black men at every chance!) and they may be right. Meanwhile, thanks to the good work of death penalty lawyers, California doesn't actually execute condemned prisoners; it just warehoused an ever larger number in the most expensive possible confinement until Newsom broke the logjam.

The state's major media and political class (the subset of citizens who attend to policy and politics) absorbed this lesson a decade ago, but a majority remain hesitant to give up the possibility of "an eye for an eye." Support for the death penalty expresses a gut need for social condemnation of terrible acts. Could a less-than-lethal sentence satisfy our need to feel justice has been done?

Campaigners against the death penalty have been offering sentences of "life without possibility of parole" as the substitute. But an untrusting fraction of us just doesn't believe the system will keep its promises. According to the pollster:

“People in some ways think that that’s the preferable way to go,” [Mark] DiCamillo said of life in prison without the possibility of parole. “But there’s a segment of the public that believes there will be some way, somehow down they road they will be able to get out.”

Too many citizens feel too little reason to trust the government.

At least for the duration of Gov. Gavin's term, California won't have executions, though a few county DAs are still charging heinous crimes as offenses that might allow the death penalty. It ain't over ...
...
Concurrently, the gaggle of Democrats who want to be president are largely coming out in opposition to the death penalty. Presidents don't have much actual sway over executions; only 62 prisoners are under federal order of death. There hasn't been a federal execution since 2003. It's state governments that kill, more and more rarely.

Apparently the presidential contenders consider their stance at least politically neutral, if not a net benefit to their campaigns.

If candidates “thought they were going to hurt themselves by coming out against the death penalty, I really think very few would do it,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who specializes in election law and governance. “I think the consensus (among candidates) is, this is where public opinion is or is about to be.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden is an outlier among the Democratic field in clinging to his long approval of a federal death penalty.

Monday, June 17, 2019

A reminder: democratic hope lives among people with reason to fear

Those blue spikes in citizenship applications in California followed Republican advocacy of the anti-immigrant Prop. 187 and before each subsequent change election. Source: Cato Institute
The Atlantic's Adam Serwer has written what seems an important addition to my recent discussion of the fear driving white U.S. evangelicals mad and into the arms of unscrupulous right wing politicians:
Black Americans did not abandon liberal democracy because of slavery, Jim Crow, and the systematic destruction of whatever wealth they managed to accumulate; instead they took up arms in two world wars to defend it. Japanese Americans did not reject liberal democracy because of internment or the racist humiliation of Asian exclusion; they risked life and limb to preserve it. Latinos did not abandon liberal democracy because of “Operation Wetback,” or Proposition 187, or because of a man who won a presidential election on the strength of his hostility toward Latino immigrants. Gay, lesbian, and trans Americans did not abandon liberal democracy over decades of discrimination and abandonment in the face of an epidemic.

This is, in part, because doing so would be tantamount to giving the state permission to destroy them, a thought so foreign to these defenders of the supposedly endangered religious right that the possibility has not even occurred to them. But it is also because of a peculiar irony of American history: The American creed has no more devoted adherents than those who have been historically denied its promises, and no more fair-weather friends than those who have taken them for granted.
Do take a look at the link in the quotation; Server reminds us the FBI once declared open season on Black radicals. There have been times when state violence was systematically deployed against disfavored citizens; these uppity dissenters had reason to fear.

Somehow it is hard to believe that government operatives are about to be turned loose against nice white Southern Baptists, but too many have been bamboozled by this dystopian threat.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day

My father, Roger K. Adams, was not a traveler. He didn't see much reason to leave home, since he had a home. 

But sometime in the 1970s he finally retired and Mother convinced him to get a passport which led to this image.

Thereupon they flew off on a trip to Ireland, from whence some of their people had immigrated. Mother was curious and usually interested to see new places. They met distant relatives and saw some tourist sites.

After they came home, I asked my father how he'd liked the trip. 

"They should put a roof over that country," he growled. Apparently it had rained every day. So much for traveling. Afterward Mother traveled with groups or with me.

Though he often presented as a grouch, actually he was a softie inside. He just felt the need to keep up appearances, as you can see in this picture.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Reading Mueller: Russians, Russians, and more Russians

Indivisible SF reads from the Mueller report in front of the San Francisco Federal Building, June 14, 2019.
Here's a second installment of my duty-filled reading of the Mueller report. The battalions of lawyers who have worked so hard to try to preserve the rule of law from a lawless administration keep saying "read it," so in tribute to them, I am reading it. Unlike them, I find it tedious. It seems inconclusive because Mueller apparently didn't have the time, latitude, or perhaps Department of Justice backing (even prior to installation of Trump's toady Bill Barr) to use the full force of law to make a covey of small time crooks come clean.

In the long, meaty, section "Russian Government Links To And Contacts With The Trump Campaign," the report examines, to the extent investigators were able to get facts, every known contact between the swarm of self-promoting low-lifes which composed both the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign. Here's how Mueller introduces this material:
The Office identified multiple contacts—“links,” in the words of the Appointment Order—between Trump Campaign officials and individuals with ties to the Russian government. The Office investigated whether those contacts constituted a third avenue of attempted Russian interference with or influence on the 2016 presidential election. In particular, the investigation examined whether these contacts involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump Campaign and Russia, including with respect to Russia providing assistance to the Campaign in exchange for any sort of favorable treatment in the future. Based on the available information, the investigation did not establish such coordination.
I had been following mainstream media reports of these "links" pretty closely; the investigation didn't turn up much that hadn't already leaked out. There's the episode of changing the Republican platform statement on Ukraine to a pro-Russian spin; the Trump Tower meeting with a mysterious Russian lawyer offering "dirt" on Hillary Clinton; former security official Mike Flynn's making nice to the Russian ambassador during the transition period; Jared Kushner's attempt to set up a channel for Trump to Putin through Russian communications facilities (the Russian ambassador knew better on that one); that longtime mercenary huckster Erik Prince trying to set up a meeting with a Russian oligarch in a resort in the Indian Ocean ...

It's baroque -- but mostly it's all small, stupid and sordid. These people had no idea how to get anything done at a nation-state, government to government, level. They were both oblivious to and hiding from any official channels for anything they did. Over and over, it's about trying to find someone, who might know someone else, who maybe had a relative, who'd once known a high official, who perhaps could make a connection ...

Mueller documents that these clowns' idea of research was Google and Wikipedia and they weren't particularly good at it. Michael Cohen, in his role fronting for Trump on Moscow real estate dangles, discussed getting to Putin with someone named Klokov, a guy he had misidentified via Google as an Olympic weight lifter. According to the report, Erik Prince proudly displayed proof he'd found the right Russian to approach, the head of that country's sovereign wealth fund:
Prince had on his cellphone a screenshot of Dmitriev’s Wikipedia page dated January 16, 2017, and Prince told the Office that he likely showed that image to Bannon.
Way to go, ace investigator!

Here's a specimen of how real estate hustler Felix Sater, who was looking for some payoff for helping Michael Cohen land a Moscow hotel deal, promoted his project:
Michael, Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow, and Donald owns the republican nomination. And possibly beats Hillary and our boy is in. . . . We will manage this process better than anyone. You and I will get Donald and Vladimir on a stage together very shortly. That the game changer.
The people who worked for Trump -- and evidently Trump himself -- were and are the kind of men for whom this sort of second-rate mob posturing is the entirety of their ethical and intellectual world.

The only figure in the Mueller report who seems to have had any campaigning competence was Paul Manafort. Mueller reveals that he tried to rein in the clowns; when man-on-the-make George Papadopoulos was offering that Trump should try to meet Putin, Manafort wrote:
“Let[’]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that [Trump] is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the Campaign so as not to send any signal.”
After some back and forth, Manafort chose to go to prison (perhaps expecting a pardon) rather than tell what he knows. He's made a life of betting on corrupt oligarchs and he didn't change under Mueller's pressure. Mueller was unable to determine why Manafort turned campaign data over to a Russian identified as a spy. Nothing in the report moves me off my skepticism that campaign data mumbo-jumbo could have turned the election. Sure, the Russians may have achieved marginally better targeting thanks to this gift, but manifold accidents, not Manafort, enabled Trump's election.

The report did not answer what has long been my nagging question about the Trump/Russia connection: why did that old neo-Confederate Jeff Sessions go all squirrelly in his Senate confirmation hearing when asked about Russia? The man is a racist ideologue, but unlike the Trump faux mobster entourage, he knew how things actually get done in government. Mueller reports nothing untoward in Session's glancing contacts. Yet for some reason Sessions tried to hide them. Perhaps he feared that line of questioning would lead to what some other person was doing/had done? Maybe he had come to fear that Trump actually is a Russian asset, though still one who could enable his racial agenda? We may never know.

Yes -- I will read the rest of it, slowly.

Friday, June 14, 2019

A techno-optimist take on the disinformation explosion


One day I read that our overwhelming internet-obsessed culture is upending community ties or even undermining civilization. The next day I find myself in discussions of whether political campaigns' manipulation of our oh-so-fully-mined personal data -- think not only Facebook, but also Cambridge Analytica -- is sabotaging democracy. And then there are "fake news," and multiplying conspiracy theories, and "deep fakes," and inflammatory bots to worry about.

And then I remember a little history. In the 15th century, the strand of human civilization which Europeans imported to the Americas and from which this country springs underwent a technological disruption no less gargantuan than that we're experiencing driven by global cyber technology. The combination of the movable type printing press, access to ancient languages and learning imported from the Islamic east, and translation of the Bible into local languages broke up Christendom. The Protestant Reformation was literally revolutionary; over time all this made possible both capitalism and the envisioning of an individual possessed of "human rights". All these changes spread like wildfire across Europe, a continent then without borders as the nation-state had not yet been invented; that too was another product of the underlying technological revolution.

Quite a lot to follow on what seems a pretty simple invention, isn't it? And it's worth recalling that the civilization that sprang from it led also to a string of human atrocities -- most immediately the Thirty Years War which rivaled in barbarism the European wars of the 20th century, mercantile imperialism and the slave trade, and the horrors of unconstrained industrialization.

All of which I remember when I hear predictions of technological doom: the human animal has concocted, survived (barely), and thrived on technological invention before -- and probably will do the same in the global cyber-civilization.

I say to myself: we're clever beasts -- we'll figure it out.

All this is introduction to a fascinating article which describes how journalists, pooling tech-sourced information, have figured out how to make visible what bureaucrats and tyrants would prefer to hide:
Financial constraints have led many news organizations to downsize, leaving large gaps in foreign coverage and hollowing out investigative reporting. State and non-state actors that used to court foreign correspondents in the hopes of favorable coverage are now using the Internet to control their own narratives. Many see journalists as a nuisance or a threat. Social media chatter from foreign crises reaches audiences before it has been verified or contextualized. The pace and volume of this deluge have persuaded some newsrooms that sending journalists abroad is a fool’s errand.

With public trust in facts receding, competing narratives have come to dominate. News coverage has devolved, on one hand, into partisan hackery and, on the other, into a forced balance of “both-sides-ism.” Amid all this disarray, open-source journalism is restoring the primacy of facts and placing new emphasis on verification. It is also using digital media to cover parts of the world made inaccessible by war or distance.

... Part of open-source journalism’s new-found cachet comes from its methodological sophistication, but much of its credibility derives from its transparency. ... This is the closest that journalism has come to a scientific method: the transparency allows the process to be replicated, the underlying data to be examined, and the conclusions to be tested by others. This is worlds apart from the journalism of assertion that demands trust in expert authority.
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad explains exhaustively how the successes of these tech-enabled open source collaborations spawned the organization Bellingcat which in turn penetrated the fog of war to bring truthful news from suffering Syria and many other hidden stories.

Just maybe, the same disruptive technologies that so enable "fake news" can be used to reestablish the authority of facts. Certainly smart journalists are trying. Just maybe, we'll figure it out.

UPDATE:  Elliot Higgins whose work is described in this article evaluated U.S. evidentiary claims of Iranian attacks on Gulf of Oman shipping in the NY Times. You can follow his method yourself in the day's news.

Friday cat blogging

What magnificent whiskers you have.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Yes, it was a hate crime

Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of the two murdered women:

We're not giving in; this is our country; we claim it.

The case of the angry white man who in 2015 killed three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill once again turned into a discussion of whether the murders were a "hate crime."

Craig Hicks pleaded guilty Wednesday to shooting three young Muslims in their Chapel Hill home, ending the 2015 case the district attorney called an act of “cold-blooded malice” driven by a gun fanatic’s hatred of his neighbors’ religion.

Hicks will serve a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole for killing his neighbors: Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19.

Family members and lawyers connected to the case said Wednesday’s hearing corrects a 4-year-old narrative that mistakenly cast the murders as a parking dispute rather than a hate crime.

The News & Observer, Raleigh, NC

There are plenty of procedural and legal reasons, as well as possible bias reasons, why authorities don't want to call this or other offenses based in hate by the label "hate crime." The legal categories don't quite fit; Hicks would get the same sentence anyway. But a newly released tape from Deah Barakat's phone in which polite students tried to mollify their angry neighbor just before he shot them more than made the case. Here's how the prosecutor responded:
The "hate crime" label matters because it is society's way of acknowledging that racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and misogyny violate community values -- and no one should forget that. Calling a crime a "hate crime" sets a standard for law enforcement to be conscious that their job is to uphold and enforce inclusive justice for all.

It may seem just words, but naming hate crimes what they are is a significant way we announce that all of us us are in this together.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A rally in support of women needing asylum

One of the Trump administration's most gratuitous cruelties toward migrants from south of the border has been to change the rules so that suffering domestic violence is no longer grounds to flee to the United States. Just because your partner has tried to kill you is no reason to let you into this country these days.

One year ago, Jeff Sessions (then Attorney General) ruled in the case of Ms. A.B., a woman from El Salvador who bravely sought protection in the United States after enduring over a decade of extreme physical, sexual, and emotional abuse from her ex-husband in El Salvador.

In his ruling - known as “Matter of A-B-” - Sessions overturned a landmark legal precedent that had affirmed the right of domestic violence survivors to seek asylum, characterizing these harms as “private” matters that our government does not have a responsibility to address. He used Ms. A.B.’s case to undermine access to protection for countless asylum seekers fleeing gender-based violence and other harms.

The women of Mujeres Unidas y Activas gathered along with over 20 partner organizations outside the San Francisco federal courthouse on Tuesday.
We made noise ...

engaged passersby ...

and were glad to demonstrate, once again, they have friends.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Fear is deathly

This book is about "existential" terror experienced by white evangelicals -- fear of the unknown Other, of Black and Brown people, of LGBT people, of people who believe differently or don't believe at all, of uppity women (even white ones). These are some scared folks. And that isn't all.

Professor John Fea is an historian, teaching at Messiah College, a private Christian institution in Pennsylvania. After the November 2016 election of Donald Trump, whom he viewed as embodying the antithesis of the values he teaches, he experienced an uncomfortable incongruity.

Five days later -- the Lord's Day -- I took my seat in the sanctuary of the central Pennsylvania megachurch where I have worshipped for the last sixteen years. As I looked around at fellow worshippers, I could not help thinking that there was a strong possibility, if the reports and polls were correct, that eight out of ten people in that sanctuary -- my brothers and sisters in my community of faith -- had voted for the new president-elect.

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump is his exploration of how a philandering, lying, racist could have become the white hope of his brother and sister evangelical Christians. It's a depressing catalogue.

His starting point is the story of how white evangelicals came to feel unmoored from their country during the Obama presidency. Since the 1960s, immigration by people of color from what seemed novel faith traditions coincided in time if not in location with an LGBT insurgency against gender certainties. (Aside from allusions to pro-choice women, Fea doesn't grasp the nasty nettle consisting of U.S. women's broad rejection of confining patriarchal roles for our lives -- an insurrection against traditions that was broader and deeper than anything we queers did to society.) Obama himself triggered a particular, longstanding fear.

Many evangelical voters also believed that Obama was a Muslim, and American evangelicals have always feared Muslims. Jonathan Edwards, the patron saint of many modern-day evangelicals, believed Islam was one of "two great kingdoms which the devil ... erected in opposition to the kingdom of Christ (Catholicism was the other one)".

He argues that white evangelicals went looking for a mean Daddy to protect them:

In a September 2016 lecture at Messiah College, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat told a packed audience that in a post-Christian age, evangelicals might find themselves relying more heavily on political strongmen to shield them from rushing secularization. ... Douthat suggested that evangelicals seem to need Trump, a man with no real Christian conviction to speak of, to protect them in the same way that Syrians need the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad to protect them agains the threat of ISIL.

Fea's narrative history of evangelical fear of the unknown and uncaged, which reaches back to my Puritan ancestors, is the most interesting section of the book. He offers a sad enumeration of historical dead ends: witch trials in early Massachusetts, a politics of fighting the "Catholic Menace" via the Know-Nothing movement before the Civil War, adoption of the ideology of white superiority for fear of revolts by enslaved Africans, and on to their own revolt against modern scholarship and science that led to their champion William Jennings Bryan's humiliation in the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial. The resurgent Ku Klux Klan in the North in the 20th century was also very much an appendage of white evangelical/fundamentalist culture.

Fea goes on to outline how the men he calls the "court evangelicals" -- Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Mike Huckabee, Robert Jeffress, etc. --- have weaponized evangelical fear in service of their own power and the Republican Party. All of this leaves Fea very sad. He concludes regretfully:

... it is possible to write an entire history of American evangelicalism as the story of Christians who have failed to overcome fear. Evangelicals have worried about the decline of Christian civilization from the moment they arrived on American shores in the seventeenth century. They have celebrated American values such as "freedom" and "liberty" while simultaneously building exclusive communities that do not tolerate dissent. ... White evangelical fear of newcomers -- those who might challenge the power and privilege that evangelicals have enjoyed in a nation of Protestants -- has been present in every era of American history.

There is a lot of soul-searching here, but I found something missing. Trump-applauding evangelicals are not only scared witless, they seem also willfully ignorant of the very considerable riches of modern knowledge, of history, and of science. I have a hard time believing that Jesus called his followers to be stupid. So does Fea.

The Bible teaches that Christians are to fear God -- and only God. ... The belief that the United States is a Christian nation is a form of idolatry.

He concludes he can only hold onto hope and continue to try to offer "history, not nostalgia."
...
Lest I be ignoring the "beam in my own eye" I should point out that this sort of blinding fear is still with us even in my own Church which the world considers the epitome of liberal Christendom. Thanks to the brave, tireless witness of several generations of LGBT folks and friends, the overwhelming stance of most Episcopalians is inclusive of all and at least verbally against manifold injustice's to God's people. But a dissenting bishop just offered this message to his diocese which seems a downright Fox News-inspired expression of Christian fear:

When you have a masked jihadist holding a knife to your throat demanding that you denounce your belief in Jesus Christ, you know your faith is under attack.  When the forces of culture and society encourage you to embrace a particular agenda all in the name of social justice or women’s rights, or political correctness we can sometimes compromise our faith and violate God’s Holy Word before we realize what has happened.  ... I am convinced that the day will come in our lifetime, when a person who stands up and speaks about sexual morality (particularly in regard to homosexuality or transgenderism) and quotes Leviticus or Romans – will be charged with a “hate crime” and either fined or imprisoned for doing so.  The current “Equality Act” just passed by the House and now before the U.S. Senate may very well create that scenario.  Are you prepared to go to jail for the Gospel’s sake?  What is happening in other parts of the world is at our doorstep.

Evangelicals aren't the only Christians trapped in their terrors.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Are we ready for the 16-year old vote?

Some teenagers are very ready and they took their case to the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. The members of the school board listened and knew what was good for them: they voted to move ahead with researching whether they could expand eligibility to vote in school district elections to 16 and 17 year olds.

That's how it starts ... organizing for the unimaginable, which becomes, after struggle, commonplace. Way to go!

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Black people in the city

This film, now playing, is San Francisco in its foggy vagaries, absurd curiosities, and wrenching beauty. It's true fiction from and about the city's shrinking Black population. See it if you have a chance. I cried and you might too. The movie will run for awhile here I'm sure, but will it play elsewhere?
...
The story of African American displacement in San Francisco has clear through-lines. Southern Black people migrated to the Bay to work in war industries in the 1940s from the South, Louisiana and Texas prominently. Many more settled in the East Bay than here, but a community scraped out a foothold. Redlining confined Black residents to decaying "inner city" enclaves. In these neighborhoods, vibrant Black churches, businesses, and culture thrived, centered especially in the Fillmore District. This cluster was decimated by "urban renewal" -- aka "Negro removal" in the 1950s and 60s. The Black population as a proportion of all residents peaked at 13 percent in 1970 and is now down to under five percent, as residents have been forced out by rising housing prices and a declining market for a less-educated labor force. The closest thing we have to a Black neighborhood is bits of the Bayview, once home of the shipyards and now poisoned by industry's toxic droppings. These days, expensive condos built where once San Francisco sited its waste dump are raising prices even in this last holdout of African Americans.

It's a crazy, ugly picture -- too much tech cash is chasing too little land and too little living space on a naturally gorgeous peninsula. No wonder people want to live here, but "here" is a rapidly changing, violently discriminatory, reality.

People who read this blog may know that I am also Walking San Francisco's 596 precincts, trudging both sides of every street and posting a smattering of snap shots from each small electoral area. I began in late 2012 and expect to finish by the end of 2021; I've completed 430/596 today. The photos are more focused on homeowner idiosyncrasies and architecture than on people, but I've met and photographed hundreds of San Franciscans.

And recently I've realized I'm experiencing what feels like an anomaly. I know well the historical description of Black displacement I've recited above. Yet in nearly every little electoral area I explore, I seem to see at least one Black person. Then I got a glimmer. Black people "stick out" because none of these places (except by the rock outcroppings under the projects in the movie; I've walked there) are Black communities. The remaining Black people in this city live "mixed in" among other San Franciscans.

The pervasive feeling of loss in this city is not just, or even primarily, an individual agony; it is communal. Feeling safe and at-home as an individual is a demographic privilege that accompanies knowing one has, somewhere, a community home-place. Whites enjoy it in this city most everywhere; some people of some Asian origins have it in some parts of the city; LGBT people of diverse "races" have it in some areas; Latinx people have it in shrinking locales and must live in fear of losing it; Black people can almost no longer claim it at all. Such is San Francisco today.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Saturday scenery: birds of the air

Here's flight of brown pelicans over San Francisco's Ocean Beach.

But they are not the only soaring creatures up there.

They were having a high old time!

Sure looked like these "birds" were enjoying the thermal winds.

Friday, June 07, 2019

About those war criminals


Erudite Partner is at it again, reminding us that there are -- or ought to be -- ethical and legal limits, even in war. And its not just groundlevel grunts who violate ...

Trump’s Plan to Pardon War Criminals is Outrageous, but the Higher-Ups were Never even Charged.

Read all about it!

Friday cat blogging

I watch them; they watch me, while Walking San Francisco.

Some seem more anxious about the passerby than others.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Reading Mueller: of social media and hacking


As an expression of regard for all the lawyers and other serious students of authoritarianism whose observations and dogged work have helped keep me sane since the election of Donald Trump, I'm reading the Mueller Report. Lawyers, pundits, and Robert Mueller himself seem to beg citizens to "just read it." So I am reading it. It will be slow going, not because it is hard to read, but because it is simply depressing. Look for occasional progress reports here.

Initially, here's what I gleaned from the first two sections; these describe activities for which Mueller entered indictments with bills of particulars during 2018, so much of their content has been thoroughly chewed over in the media.

"Russian Active Measures Social Media Campaign"
The Mueller investigation determined that a Russian public/private entity -- that is, it was fronted by one of Putin's oligarch buddies -- the Internet Research Agency:

... operated social media accounts and group pages designed to attract U.S. audiences. These groups and accounts, which addressed divisive U.S. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists.

Rubbing salt in our national wounds and our enduring shame,

the IRA created accounts in the names of fictitious U.S. organizations and grassroots groups and used these accounts to pose as anti-immigration groups, Tea Party activists, Black Lives Matter protestors, and other U.S. social and political activists.

Mueller confirms what Timothy Snyder hypothesized from looking around in The Road to Unfreedom; the fuel here was our own injustices and divisions.

Among the fake personas/accounts that Russian operatives created was something that called itself "Blacktivist." I vaguely remember material from Blacktivist floating through my Facebook feed; I also remember sensing that something was a little off there. But, I thought, lots of odd opinions float about.

Since I write in an opinionated way about contentious matters of race, gender and power, I would not be surprised if automated internet trawling looking for easy targets had picked me up. And I have some confirmation that is true. I seldom pay any attention to this blog's stats which, though rudimentary, give me a very rough sense of where traffic originates. I remember being surprised by the number of hits from Russia in the 2015-2017 period. I can't isolate and retrieve the numbers from that time (I really don't pay much attention); but I can report that over the blog's life nearly 14 percent of its traffic was identified by Google as originating in Russian. I have occasionally written about Russia long before Trump but nothing to really call attention .... WTF???

The Russians used the social media program to keep us inflamed. And they found a ready audience -- most especially among the Trump campaign and its hangers-on.

Among the U.S. “leaders of public opinion” targeted by the IRA were various members and surrogates of the Trump Campaign. In total, Trump Campaign affiliates promoted dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA.

Mueller treats the U.S. persons who disseminated Russian material as unwitting dupes; some ordinary citizens even organized pro-Trump rallies. Though it is painful to think of this "active measures campaign" as a successful foreign intrusion on our election, in truth the Mueller description reads exactly like what any well-resourced, ethically under-scrupulous, U.S. political campaign would likely attempt to organize, hopefully a little more transparently. There is no suggestion that the actual Trump for President campaign had the capacity to do anything this competent.

And by 2020, every campaign (and who knows how many countries) will probably have some more or less covert branch/offshoot trying to replicate this. Campaigns glom on to what worked in the last cycle ...

"Russian Government Links To And Contacts With The Trump Campaign"
The Mueller report summarizes this section:

Beginning in March 2016, units of the Russian Federation’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU) hacked the computers and email accounts of organizations, employees, and volunteers supporting the Clinton Campaign, including the email account of campaign chairman John Podesta. Starting in April 2016, the GRU hacked into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The GRU targeted hundreds of email accounts used by Clinton Campaign employees, advisors, and volunteers. In total, the GRU stole hundreds of thousands of documents from the compromised email accounts and networks.109 The GRU later released stolen Clinton Campaign and DNC documents through online personas, “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0,” and later through the organization WikiLeaks. The release of the documents was designed and timed to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and undermine the Clinton Campaign.

Some observations:
  • The hacking and email dissemination was a military operation. That's worth remembering; Russia is carrying on a covert war against the US political system.
  • Much of the hacking was facilitated by "spearfishing" -- tempting people to click on phony emails which contained embedded code that gave the hackers access to their files and permissions. Such human social engineering is an awful lot of what makes hacking possible. It's not magic or the machines; it's us.
  • The Report documents that this Russian military campaign used several internet personas to strategically release hacked Clinton and Democratic Party emails, ending up going through Wikileaks. I found myself wondering: was Wikileaks a preferred cut-out for the Russians because the organization retained some slight residual credibility from its early days as a rather cheerful, anti-authority, anarchist outfit?
  • Going through Wikileaks meant going through Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London while hiding out from rape charges in Sweden. Assange seems to be one of those characters whose "politics," perhaps once imaginative or even hopeful, has curdled into preening hatred of anyone who gets in his way. Mueller reprints a snippet of Assange's hatred for Hillary that starts as a species of analysis and goes off a frustrated, mysogynist, cliff.

    “[w]e believe it would be much better for GOP to win . . . Dems+Media+liberals woudl [sic] then form a block to reign in their worst qualities. . . . With Hillary in charge, GOP will be pushing for her worst qualities., dems+media+neoliberals will be mute. . . . She’s a bright, well connected, sadisitic sociopath.”

    This stuff was in the leftish, mostly male, air we breathed. I wrote about it a week before the 2016 election. Though it starts from realities, it easily degenerates into venomous stupidity. The Russians used our weaknesses to break our system; was Assange just another dupe?
  • Mueller reproduces some of Donald Trump Jr.'s messages about (not to) Wikileaks. These snippets support the pundit theory that the younger Trump was simply too stupid to charge with any witting crime.
In general, though the hacking and email releases through cut outs were Russian military operations, for me the Mueller report confirms what those who know Russia better than we do, such as Masha Gessen, have been trying to tell us: “[Putin's] not actually so scary.”

These sections of the Mueller Report left me believing that the Russian social media manipulation and the cyber attack got very, very, very lucky through exploitation of a cluster of clowns -- of whom the most cretinous became President -- whether or not Trump is actively guilty of anything. To be continued as I read further ...

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Dear Joe ...


I'm so glad to hear that you are morally disturbed by abortion and I absolutely trust that you will not have an abortion should you get pregnant.

You obviously understand such a decision is an important ethical challenge to a person carrying a potential child. It deserves deep, serious, and compassionate reflection.

So why would you deny the opportunity for such adult decision making to low income women -- often of color -- by supporting the Hyde Amendment ban on federal assistance for this medical intervention? Do you really believe such women don't deserve the chance to live as moral adults, just as you wish to do?

Inquiring women want to know ...

I had said I was going to stay out of the 2020 president scrum, but Joe has drawn me in.

Best London sign welcoming Trump I've seen

There were probably better ones, but this was my favorite.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Remembering the dead 30 years after Tiananmen


From the delightful volume China A to Z: Everything You Need to Know to Understand Chinese Customs and Culture, I have learned that the most important activity of Tomb Sweeping Day (Qing Ming) that Chinese celebrate on April 5 is "to care for the graves of one's ancestors. Traditionally this meant sweeping the dirt away and weeding the cemetery plot." Interestingly, that's almost exactly the sort of activity my very WASP mother engaged in around Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) when she visited her family's plot, sometimes planted flowers or clipped grass, and complained to cemetery authorities if any head stones were leaning tipsily.

In The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, journalist and China scholar Ian Johnson provides a vignette describing of the personal Qing Ming ritual performed by Xu Jue, the mother of a young worker killed in the Tiananmen massacre. She not only lost her son when the ruling Communist Party crushed the peaceful democracy protest in 1989; soon after her husband, who had raised the boy, contracted leukemia and "died of anger."

The Party has done everything it can to erase memories of the terrible slaughter in Beijing, but Johnson finds that this is not so easy when there are survivors who know what happened in their country. Xu Jue showed Johnson how she remembers.

As she spoke, she began unpacking a box, assembling what was left of her son. She laid on the sofa a stained blue work shirt that he wore that night. ... She placed a black and white photograph of her son where his head would have been. He is young, with Xu Jue's small mouth and intense eyes. His name, Wu Xiangdong, had been taped over the bottom of the photograph.

Then she laid out two thin white strips of cotton. They framed the shirt at angles and met at the top, over the photograph, spreading out like protective halberds. The left one read,

The spirit of the June Four martyrs will never decay;
It resides below in the mountains and rivers, above the sun and stars,

and on the right side,

Blood shed in a just cause may not be rewarded for a thousand autumns;
Its fame lies at the gates found at the gates of the capital, its merit found in the whole world.

The government has her under surveillance and won't permit any commemoration of the Tiananmen dead on the Qing Ming day itself. But when Johnson visited her in 2012, it did allow Xu Jue to sweep her husband's and son's grave the preceding week. Johnson is able to follow Xu Jue to the gravesite and reports her ritual tribute.

In memory of the Tiananmen massacre, Johnson retold Xu Jue's story in Thirty Years After Tiananmen: Someone Always Remembers in the Monday New York Times.
...
I hope to write much more about The Souls of China in a future post, but it seemed wrong to let the 30th anniversary pass without notice.
...
Photo by Catherine Henriette, AFP

Monday, June 03, 2019

The other side of the Mexico tariff story

While Donald Trump ricochets about announcing crazy "national security" tariffs on imports from Mexico, another politician who has seldom been at a loss for words has something to say. AMLO (Andrés Manuel López Obrador), Mexico's wildly popular president, has chimed in. I haven't seen this reported much in U.S. but he has a distinctive message to the bully north of the border.

I’ve learned about your latest position regarding Mexico. First of all, I want to express that I do not want a confrontation. When facing a conflict in our relationship, no matter how serious, the cities and nations we represent deserve that we turn to dialogue and act with caution and responsibility.

Mexico’s best president, Benito Juárez, maintained an excellent relationship with his Republican counterpart, Abraham Lincoln. Later on, during the oil expropriation (when Mexico kicked out foreign oil companies), Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt understood the profound reasons that led patriot President Lázaro Cárdenas to act in favor of our sovereignty. Indeed, President Roosevelt was a titan of liberty. Before anyone else, he proclaimed the four fundamental human rights: the right to speak freely, to practice religion freely, to live free of fear, and to live free of misery.

That’s the thinking behind our politics when it comes to the migration issue. Human beings don’t abandon their hometowns because they want to, but because they need to. That’s why, when I first took office, I proposed to partner in helping develop Central American countries by making productive investments that will create jobs and address the root cause of this terrible issue.

You must also know that we are complying with our responsibility to prevent, to the extent possible and without violating human rights, passage through our country. It’s worth reminding you that, before long, Mexicans will no longer need to go to the United States, and that migration will be optional, not forced. That’s because we are fighting corruption, Mexico’s main problem, like never before! And that’s how our country will become a great power with a social dimension. Our fellow citizens will be able to work and be happy where they were born, where their families, traditions and cultures are.

President Trump: You can’t solve social problems with taxes or coercive measures. How does one transform, overnight, the country of fellowship with immigrants from around the world into a ghetto, a closed-off space that stigmatizes, mistreats, chases, expels and cancels legal rights to those who are seeking —with effort and hard work— to live free of misery? The Statue of Liberty isn’t an empty symbol.

With all due respect, while you have the sovereign right to say it, the slogan “America First” is a fallacy, because until the end of times, and above national borders, universal justice and brotherhood will prevail.

More specifically, my fellow president: I propose that we deepen our dialogue to find alternative solutions to the root cause of the migration problem, and please, remember that I don’t lack courage, that I am not a coward or timid, but that I act based on principles: I believe that politics, among other things, was invented to avoid confrontation and war. I do not believe in the Talion Law, in a “tooth for a tooth” or an “eye for an eye,” because, if we go there, we’d all end up toothless and blind in one eye. I believe that people of the state, and even more so, as people of the nation, we are obligated to find peaceful solutions to our disputes and to always practice the beautiful ideal of non-violence.

Lastly, I propose that you instruct your staff, if it’s not an inconvenience, to meet with representatives of our government, led by Mexico’s secretary of foreign relations, who are heading to Washington tomorrow so we can find a solution that benefits both our nations.
Nothing by force, everything with reason and by the Law!

Your friend,
Andrés Manuel López Obrador
President of Mexico

Translation via Vox

My emphasis. Apparently the Mexican president is warning that he doesn't roll over for bullies.

The vast majority of migrants coming across our southwestern border in hope of asylum come from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala these days. Only three percent are from Mexico. No wonder AMLO understands that the U.S. and Mexico need to be in this together.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Sensible advice about the inevitable, gently delivered

When you reach your seventies, you notice that more people in your life are dying, more immediately. (If you are a San Franciscan, you may have experienced this in the 1980s-90s in a much younger cohort during the height of the HIV crisis, but that's not what I'm talking about.) We all go eventually, but eventually seems to have eased closer.

I'm feeling pretty okay, if a little battered, but seeing friends go inspired me to read The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life by local journalist Katy Butler. My friend Ronni Bennett, who writes on aging and is recounting the course of her terminal cancer, says she's been inundated with this kind of book. She's had enough. No more. But I had never read one, so I figured I should. I remembered Butler as a smart reporter thirty years ago writing the consumer section for the old Bay Guardian. She still seems a smart, reliable guide -- I would recommend this book for reams of practical tips for living the last stages of life with as much dignity and spiritual equilibrium as any of us may be fortunate to experience.

Butler describes the book's project like this:

In developed countries few people die of disease in the first half of life. Most early deaths result from accidents, violence, drug overdoses, and suicide. Cancer becomes a major cause of death in the mid-forties and continues to climb through the fifties and sixties. Deaths from heart disease rise in the sixties and seventies, from lung disease in the eighties, and from dementia in the nineties. All cause physical suffering long before they kill, and all are profoundly shaped by how you live. .. .before you must accept the things you cannot change, you can seize the time to prepare for what's ahead, and change the things you can.

Since we don't want to think about it, some of her suggestions may seem all too mundane -- but we are all tempted to put them off or put the thought aside. Here are a few of her suggestions, all direct quotes unless otherwise noted.
  • If your primary care doctor is older than you are, consider finding someone who won't retire before you die and has an office close by. (The same goes for dentists, hairdressers, and car mechanics: a twenty mile drive that is easy today may be harder tomorrow.)
  • If your love of solitude has deepened into isolation, or you are cocooning within a couple, you might consider making a conscious effort to befriend or mentor younger people, especially neighbors. ... Courtesy, neighborliness, and exchanges of favors are pleasant amenities earlier in life. For older people who want to stay in their own homes, they are survival skills. ... in later life, interdependence is well worth worth cultivating.
  • Most people have already been repeatedly urged to fill out [medical and legal advance directives.] And 70 percent of us haven't. Perhaps it might help to think of an advance directive as not just a piece of intimidating paperwork, but as an act of spiritual maturity.
  • A doctor who agrees to end an unwanted treatment is not violating the Hippocratic oath. She is honoring your autonomy.
  • Go ahead and ask. Make sure you understand the trajectory of your illness if it follows its usual course. ... Ask not only about length of life, but about how you will feel and function, and how proposed treatments may affect your well-being.
  • Preparing the family ... It takes time for people to absorb the notion that you will die someday, and the unprepared can wreak havoc at the end of life. Keep talking until everyone accepts the truth.
  • Don't let the business of medicine eclipse the business of living. Spend your limited energy and time on things that matter to you. ... You have not obligation to create a voluminous medical history or to monitor a condition that can't be cured.
  • It may help you retain your agency and your moral authority if you understand that financial incentives, hidden from your view, promote overtreatment. ... Few people with cancer know, for instance, that oncologists get more than half their revenue from markups (in 2017, of 4.3 percent) that they are allowed to add to the price of the chemotherapy drugs they prescribe and administer. ... This peculiar system underpays oncologists for making time for difficult conversations ...
  • When I first began this book, I expected to enthusiastically recommend hospice at home for everyone. I still think it's the best option for those who want to die at home and the money for hired caregiving or a "tribe" to look after them. But ... I've realized that the current gaps in hospice services put a good home death out of reach of many people.
  • Nearly a quarter of us will die in a nursing home or similar facility -- often in a shared room with someone in the next bed. ... If someone you love is dying in a nursing home, ask for a temporary private room. (You may not prevail, but it never hurts to ask.)
  • At a certain point, let go. Sometimes a hospital team will refuse to stop treatment, and sometimes family members will disagree with each other. Accept the things you cannot change. Act in a way that will leave you with the fewest regrets, and allow the one you love to die in peace.
It's in the nature of a book on this topic that it overemphasizes how much autonomy and agency any of us will have in our inevitable demise. Having the process go our way is just not how death will come for most of us. Sure, there are sensible things we can do to make the prospect of dying seem a little easier, but ultimately we are powerless in death. That's the reality.

So all the preparations for decline in aging, and the criticism of how poorly the medical system treats the dying, and descriptions of how our culture disables us from contemplating our certain demise, can only go so far. Butler knows that and has written a book that both recognizes its own limits and still tries to assist readers to engage with the uncomfortable truth. Boldly done!
Related Posts with Thumbnails